The coming of Krishna

By Gus Bode

Indian and Christian communities come together to recognize Krishna’s birthday Saturday

Peggy Preston removed her shoes and placed them near a growing pile of decorative sandals, tennis shoes and dress shoes in front of a Radha Krishna temple in Stonefort, at the heart of the Shawnee National Forest.

The shoes vibrated to the pulsating beat of a mrdanga, a barrel-shaped drum, as did Preston and her 15-month-old son, Tom. Preston and about 50 others started to sway and chant listening to Dade Atrharkaind, a retired medical practitioner from India, sing about the 10 incarnations of Krishna during the Hindu ceremony, Arotika Puja.


The mrdanga and hand cymbals pulsated faster. The crowd clapped, their bodies swaying in unison along with the growing chant to Hare Krishna with Atrharkaind.

The small Radha Krishna Temple began to resonate a spirit that was shared with Hindu communities throughout the world on Saturday – the spirit of Krishna and his appearance on Earth.

About 115 people visited the Radha Krishna Temple in Stonefort Saturday evening for Sri Krishna Janmastami, a festival celebrating the birth or appearance of Krishna on Earth about 5,000 ago in India.

Krishna, the worshiped Lord of the Hare Krishna faith in Hindu religion, manifested his eternal divine form in Mathura near Delhi, India, and displayed unlimited transcendental activities as a simple village cowherd.

“It is an eternal transcendentally Divine Celebration to worship Lord Krishna that is rich in the spiritual significance of India’s great gifts of religious culture to all the world,” said Deborah Yarber, better known as Dhanistha, a initiated disciple in the religion who led the ceremonies at Janmastami. “All over India this festival celebration is conducted with great spiritual reverence and loving devotion by everyone in all the villages and the great cities.”

Arotika Puja is a common ceremony held two to six times a day, which most Indians participate in regularly. As the chant leads the session, roses are thrown into the crowd as an offering to Krishna and members of the congregation fan heat in a wafting motion from a single flame to purify their spirits.

The festival, particularly in India, takes place at midnight, the actual time of Krishna’s birth in other parts of the world. But locally, the Arotika Puja festival and a special bathing of the deities ceremony, Abhiseka, occurs three times for families and Hindu followers who wanted to celebrate earlier in the evening.


Abhiseka is a special practice in which each member of the congregation makes a second offering to Krishna by bathing a deity of Krishna with milk, gee (similar to butter), yogurt, honey and rosewater.

Dhanistha, who was initiated as a disciple in 1974, has sponsored the Janmastami festival for the last couple years at the temple on her property. But she said a more collaborative effort among growing, local Indian communities has expanded the ceremonies both in number and authenticity.

Makesh Chaudhry has lived in Marion for five years with her family, but it was the first time she has visited one of few Hindu temples in Southern Illinois.

Chaudhry said she has gone to St. Louis before for larger ceremonies such as Janmastami, but she is excited about finding one so close to home and similar to others she has attended in India.

“This is very nice and I will start attending here,” Chaudhry said.

Veena Paliwal is one of 58 new SIUC students from India and attended the festival for the first time since coming to study and live with her husband in Carbondale.

She said the festival gave not only the Indian community a place to gather and worship, but a comparison to festivals in her homeland. And she was pleasantly surprised.

“There are a lot of good people here and it is good to see them all coming together,” Paliwal said.

After moving to Carbondale from Cincinnati about a year ago, Preston has become accustomed to Hindu festivals at the temple built at a local university there. But after its closing and her family’s current move, she is pleased to see an area such as Southern Illinois partaking in multi-cultural events.

Peggy held Tom, who bounced his arms to the music, watching as small girls, SIUC students and older members of the local Indian community danced around a table holding the deities of Krishna during the Abhiseka ceremony.

Preston held her son, watching Christians and Hindu followers feel the pulse of Krishna beat through the congregation on his birthday.

“There is a strong resonance with Christianity, and the general teachings are the same – ‘Love your neighbor, have the love of God,'” Preston said.

Reporter Samantha Edmondson can be reached at [email protected]